Halloween is coming, and so are many readers who do not normally enjoy the horror genre but who want to give it a try. Of course, there are the “old standby” authors like Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Peter Straub and new best sellers like Joe Hill and Jonathan Maberry. But if you are only relying on these writers to help your once-a-year horror readers, you may be missing a better match for their specific tastes. Consider these six 2012 titles that illustrate how easily horror can cross over into other popular genres.
Brett J. Talley’s The Void (JournalStone. 2012. ISBN 9781936564439. pap. $16.95) harkens back to the sf-tinged horror of H.P. Lovecraft. Enter a world where people easily travel through space while sleeping. There is a catch: travelers are held hostage to their nightmares while in flight. When six travelers encounter an abandoned aircraft, bad things begin to happen, but is it a dream, paranoia, or a monster? Talley creates a creeping sense of unease from the start, an anxiety that continuously builds, leaving readers to look over their shoulders while frantically turning the pages to the end.
For literary horror, Victor LaValle’s The Devil in Silver (Spiegel & Grau. 2012. ISBN 9781400069866. $27) might be described as Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Frank Peretti’s Monster. Unjustly committed to a mental hospital, Pepper quickly realizes that not only are the inmates more sane than the staff but that an animal-headed monster is killing the patients at night. Character is king here as the action comes in quick spurts between Pepper’s interactions with others and his internal struggles. This novel is terrifying, but it also asks you to ponder larger societal questions of race, class, and madness; just keep the lights on while thinking about it all.
What about mystery lovers? Steer them directly to Gregory Lamberson and his “Jake Helman Files” series about a New York City police officer–turned–PI specializing in supernatural crimes. These are gory and horrific novels, but they are also imaginative and original, with a strong investigative story line. In Tortured Spirits (Medallion. 2012. ISBN 9781605424064. pap. $14.95), Jake’s quest to save a colleague who has been turned into a raven by a witch doctor leads him south, where he uncovers an army of zombie slaves harvesting drugs for evil mastermind Malvado.
Speaking of zombies, readers remain hungry for the shambling undead. Joe McKinney has successfully parlayed his experience as a police detective and disaster migration specialist into his terrifyingly realistic and award-winning zombie plague novels. In Mutated (Pinnacle: Kensington. 2012. ISBN 9780786029297. pap. $7.99), Ben has survived in a zombie-infected world by staying alert and avoiding trouble. When a nasty leader begins to gather the living, Ben decides to trade his solitude for refuge on an abandoned farm. Things are tough, but manageable, until Ben notices that the zombies are getting smarter and faster. How can this be? McKinney fills his thriller with realistic details of how the plague spreads, convincing dialog, superior characterization, and, of course, awesome zombie battle scenes.
Almost as popular as zombies these days are novels by Nordic authors. Not to be left out is John Ajvide Lindqvist, also known as Sweden’s Stephen King. Little Star (Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. 2012. ISBN 9780312620516. $27.99) begins with a family raising a young girl they found abandoned in the woods, until horrible circumstances lead her brother to take her to Stockholm. After he enters her in a TV show similar to American Idol and another young girl sees her performance, a frighteningly evil team is born. As in his previous novels (Let the Right One In), Lindqvist uses compelling YA characters to portray the horrors that lurk in the shadows of the everyday world. It is scarier because it seems so normal.
Finally, for nonfiction fans, Lisa Morton’s Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween (Reaktion, dist. by Univ. of Chicago. 2012. ISBN 9781780230474. $29) covers the history of Halloween from its ancient Celtic roots to its stunning growth in global popularity in the 21st century. Morton is an accomplished horror short story writer, and her ability to draw readers in quickly and keep them turning the pages shines through in her nonfiction as well. Lavishly illustrated, this solidly researched and concise work is fun to read and a great choice for readers who want to know why we seek out the scary each October.
This column was contributed by Becky Spratford, a Readers’ Advisory Librarian, Berwyn Public Library, IL, and Adjunct Faculty, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Dominican University, River Forest, IL, She is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, 2d edition (ALA Editions, 2012; LJ 9/15/12). For more horror suggestions from Becky, visit raforallhorror.blogspot.com.